Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Strong evidence – there is lots of high-quality evidence that some young people find this treatment option helpful.

Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT) is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) designed to treat PTSD. CBT is a talking therapy where you learn how your feelings, thoughts and behaviours affect each other and CBT can help you change the way you think, behave and feel. 

Cognitivemeans the events that take place in your mind, such as thoughts, images, memories, or processes like worrying. Behaviour” is what you do, for example escaping or avoiding something. 

 Trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy involves: 

  • Psychoeducation, which means learning about PTSD, how it develops and how it can affect you. 
  • Working on a shared understanding of your PTSD symptoms with your therapist, including learning how your symptoms affect you and how your therapist can support you. 
  • Starting new activities or re-starting things you might have stopped doing (often with support from your therapist), which can help with your mood and anxiety through being active. 
  • Learning techniques to help you relax, especially when you are feeling anxious. 
  • Working with your therapist to remember the trauma in a safe space. This could help you to feel less anxious about things that might trigger disturbing memories and help you to feel more in control. 
  • Identifying unhelpful thoughts and beliefs which you have associated with the traumatic event and finding different ways to think about them. 
  • Practicing being in contact with things that remind you of the traumatic event, things that you have been avoiding, or things that trigger your anxiety. Your therapist will support you to be in contact with these triggers without becoming anxious, having disturbing memories or trying to avoid them. 

TF-CBT usually involves between 10 and 20 weekly sessions. Most sessions will just include you and your therapist, but for some sessions your parents or carers may also be involved. 

For younger children TF-CBT will try to help in the same way, but sessions may be shorter, parents or carers will be more involved and the therapist may use more creative or play-based techniques, rather than simply talking. 

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

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